Learning 2.0 – why bother? – A classroom example, no E necessary.

Cold, windy and rainy… me and the rest of continental North America I guess. Nice to see so many new faces on the website over the last 24 hours, that Stephen guy sure has alot of friends… It’s weird though, kinda like being a ghost in an odd, pleasing dream where crowds of people you don’t know show up for your birthday party, and you wander from room to room, wondering who they are and unable to ask them. So it goes. I think i’m far too spoiled by the ‘right now’-ness of the internet. This is probably good practice for me.

Loved Will Richardson’s post yesterday. He was saying that a teacher was complaining that students were blogging the Questions and answers to tests between classes. I couldn’t help think of my rotters in Korea. Long before i was introduced to anything other than ’survive the day’ teaching, I realized I couldn’t stop 40 students in a classroom from cheating. It’s a science there, from writing on the inside of the label on the coke bottle, to actually keeping your notes on the wall of the classroom, you could track it, but never beat it. So I started writing tests that couldn’t be cheated on… There’s a problem with this… they take forever to grade. Nothing like a nice multiple choice test for getting in and out of grading (especially if you’re using a test engine).

But here’s the question… why test them at all? In will’s words

  • ” why, if the answers are already out here, are we asking our students to give them back to us on an exam? I can understand why we used do this, back in the days when the answers were difficult to find.”

But now what it means for a student to ‘know’ something has changed. Imagine, using our examples drawn from the article I referenced yesterday, how great someone’s memory had to be to recite the Iliad. They did it from memory. Those long descriptions of the people who were present before the gates of Troy were meant as a test of that memory. Being able to do it would get you a few nights in a castle, a bunch of wine and some decent food… now? If it were a child, maybe a trip to Letterman(the special 12 hours Letterman devoted to little Chrissy who can recite the entirety of an old, old play), but you’d be an oddity. A curiosity. That form of knowing is outdated. Sure it’s neat, and we can imagine a situation where having that kind of memory would be useful, but you ain’t getting into a castle with it.I still think that multiplication tables should be memorized… i use mine all the time. ABCs… sure. I’m sure we could come up with a list of things that would be useful to keep a permanent place in my mind. The dates of the Prime Ministery(sic) of Margaret Thatcher? Takes two seconds. There is, in my mind, no conceivable purpose for memorizing this information. In an age where people are bombarded with data from a hundred sources… There’s an old line from Sherlock Holmes that comes to mind in talking to watson he says “your mind is like a lumber room, things wanted always buried.” We need to organize information, to find it, to assemble it – not memorize it.

Lets look at the sabotaged test a little closer. If the students are blogging the answers, and this is bad, that means that these questions have one (or potentially a couple) of right answers. That would mean we’re probably talking about definitions, or something similar. Freely available all over the internet. If the students are blogging the questions, and this is bad, this means that the teacher is not telling the students what is on the test. This implies that the students are expected to study, and remember, a great deal of material that won’t even be on the test. Not only is it possible that remembering it (as opposed to storing it in a convienient digital location) will be useless, they won’t even be able to use it on their test!

What good does this do? Well, it helps memory practice. It encourages students to do meaningless tasks and obey. there are some problem solving skills involved in learning how to beat such tests. I guess the make up of a plant cell might come up in conversation some day (not that I can remember which part is which) And on this point… they always had the diagram in their textbook! Why did i memorize something that i had a book to read from dammit!
What bad does it do? More than anything else, it leads to alienation. Alienation from the system, from people in positions of power. Force someone to do something without purpose and watch their trust in you and/or your system fade.

The Learning 2.0 that I’m talking about addresses the literacies that the students are going to need (indeed, have always needed). The people who are successful, whether in charity work, business, politics or family life are not successful because they remember things (except the last and laundry, remembering this being very important i’m learning…) They are successful because of their creativity, their ability to adjust to change, to get along with others, to sway people’s opinions… If we really want people to be able, for instance, to out-think commercials (think of how much money Oscar Meyer has made over the years with that damn song they’ve put in so many children’s mouths) they need those same old literacies, the successful ones, to be able to navigate what knowledge means today.

Our testing should reflect this. But how, how oh how, can we test and not test memory, while still leaving teachers the time to cut their lawns? The way good teachers have been doing it is balance the creative learning against their schedule. Do as much as they can handle, and draw the line… or burnout and face ‘reality’. The reality that the way the system is constructed does not allow for the teaching of many of the more useful literacies. This is where all this tech comes in… We can set up a whole new set of goals, not test goals, but accomplishment goals, and use the digital slave to do the work. In this world, the kid who was getting the answers on the test from his classmate gets a C, the one sending the questions a B and the students sending the answers an A. The C for finding information, the B for for helping focus the conversation, and the A for giving people exactly what they need to succeed. This is knowledge, as it exists today.

hard on the head.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

One thought on “Learning 2.0 – why bother? – A classroom example, no E necessary.”

  1. You wrote:
    ‘There’s an old line from Sherlock Holmes that comes to mind in talking to watson he says “your mind is like a lumber room, things wanted always buried.”’

    I think that’s actually a quote from the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf mentions this about Barliman Butterbur at the Council of Elrond (and not in Barley’s presence, so it’d be “his” mind, instead of “your”). Tolkien might have nicked it from sir Conan Doyle, but somehow I doubt that… 🙂

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